news-category: Faculty Emeriti

2024 Spring Commencement Ceremony Especially Meaningful for Dr. Sophia Steibel

New Professor Emerita, Brazilian Native was Introduced to Gardner-Webb’s Campus 50 Years Ago

BOILING SPRINGS, N.C.—As the procession of Gardner-Webb students and faculty march into Spangler Stadium on Thursday, May 2, the moment will be savored by everyone. For one professor, Dr. Sophia Steibel, the 2024 Commencement Ceremony will mark three significant milestones.

Steibel is retiring after serving the University for 30 years, and she’s been named Professor Emerita in the M. Christopher White School of Divinity. Most importantly, the Brazilian native will reflect on the impactful day 50 years ago when she arrived on Gardner-Webb’s campus for the first time.    

“I was a student here from 1974-1977, sponsored by the Baptist Men of North Carolina,” Steibel related. “I came back to teach in 1994 (20 years later) — never would I have thought that. I am very grateful for all that I received from Gardner-Webb as a student and as a professor.”

Dr. Sophia Steibel at the 2023 School of Divinity Recognition

When she earned her bachelor’s degree from Gardner-Webb in 1977, she also received the citizenship award as the female student of the year. Steibel went on to earn her Master of Arts in religious education and her Ph.D. from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. After receiving her master’s degree, she taught at the Baptist Religious Education Institute in Rio de Janeiro. Then, she taught at the South Brazil Baptist Theological Seminary in Rio de Janeiro after earning her Ph.D. Steibel also served three years as president of Campinas Baptist Theological College, Campinas, Sao Paulo, Brazil.

Her first position at Gardner-Webb was associate professor in the Department of Religious Studies and Philosophy. In 2001, Steibel joined the School of Divinity faculty. She has taught The Christian Journey, Designing Curriculum, Leadership with Volunteers in the Church, Mission and Ministry, and Administration and Leadership. Steibel coordinated the spiritual formation curriculum for the School of Divinity, and she led annual spirituality retreats for students. Christian education and spiritual formation are Steibel’s primary areas of research interest.

In 2020, Steibel was named the Bonnie Price Chair for Christian Formation and Leadership. The Chair was established to honor Bonnie Price, long-time School of Divinity friend and supporter, in recognition of her commitment to Christian formation and ministry. Steibel is also active in the life of First Baptist Church of Shelby, N.C.

Steibel is thankful for her years at Gardner-Webb. “As I said before, this is an institution that forms people to be contributors in society, honoring God and serving humanity,” she shared. “The interactions are meaningful, challenging at times, but they all contribute to the formation of a person wholistically. As a learner, I received individualized attention that helped me thrive. Professors like Dr. Tony Eastman and Dr. Alice Cullinan saw that I would be able to perform the learning task to the best of my ability. As a Professor, I tried to follow their lead.  Also, I was embraced by peers who valued my personhood and offered encouragement along the way.”

She concluded, “I feel privileged for having worked alongside professionals who live out their calling as teachers. Education at Gardner-Webb is a serious business that highlights growth and development in a context of Christian love.”

Gardner-Webb University is North Carolina’s recognized leader in private, Christian higher education. A Carnegie-Classified Doctoral/Professional University, GWU is home to nine colleges and schools, more than 80 undergraduate and graduate majors, and a world-class faculty. Located on a beautiful 225-acre campus in Boiling Springs, N.C., Gardner-Webb prepares graduates to impact their chosen professions, equips them with the skills to advance the frontiers of knowledge, and inspires them to make a positive and lasting difference in the lives of others. Ignite your future at

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